Medical Device Integration Blog

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Posted by Kevin Phillips on Nov 26, 2013 @ 11:43 AM

The Alarming Problem of Alarm Fatigue

ECRI Institute 2014 Top 10 Health Technology HazardsIn today’s hospital, the frequency of alarms is… well… alarming. Medical device alarms, of course, play a crucial role in patient care and safety. But the volume of those ear piercing interruptions, as well as those sent to clinician’s mobile devices for less than critical events can be overwhelming. This noisy backdrop to a hospital combined with the inability to distinguish between clinically significant and insignificant alerts is so problematic, it has even been given a name - alarm fatigue.

ECRI, the well-known non-profit focusing on the improvement of safety, quality, and cost-effectiveness of patient care, has just singled out device alarms as the top medical technology health hazard for 2014.  They note that the enormous and growing volume of alarms (no pun intended) - including frequent false alarms. These may distract caregivers from other tasks while making it difficult to distinguish among and respond to multiple simultaneous alarms or even desensitize them to the calls for help that really matter.

ECRI further notes,  “In an April 2013 Sentinel Event Alert, the Joint Commission cited 98 alarm-related events over a three-and-a-half-year period, with 80 of those events resulting in death and 13 in permanent loss of function. In June, the organization announced that alarm management would be established as a National Patient Safety Goal, with certain provisions taking effect during 2014.”

Alarm management systems are in place in many hospitals to communicate device alarms remotely to clinicians’ mobile phones and tablets.  However, these systems can aggravate rather than ameliorate the problem because they simply pass along the same confusing tangle of information to a remote device that is already receiving a wide range of communications from multiple systems.

Enter the medical device integration (MDI) solution.  Communicating directly with the alarm management system, MDI provides a highly effective way to combat alarm fatigue by filtering and prioritizing only the most critical alarms sent directly to the caregiver. MDI systems, which capture and communicate device data at the point-of-care, can deliver the full complement of patient device data from all connected devices surrounding a warning to alarm management systems, putting it in clinical context.  Are the vital signs consistent and normal?  Is the patient crashing? The alarm system can use these and other types of data to intelligently edit alarm communications that a clinician receives—immediately passing along the alarms associated with critical clinical problems and delaying or lowering the priority of those that are not.

While alarm management system themselves can directly integrate with some devices, rarely if ever can they integrate the hundreds and sometimes thousands of devices in a hospital.  But a vendor neutral MDI solution can accomplish this with ease, while speeding accurate device information to an EMR.  It just may be the solution a hospital needs to cure that alarming problem of alarm fatigue.  

Is alarm fatigue an issue at your facility? Has your hospital taken steps to deal with the issue? Have you used MDI to reduce alarm fatigue?


Photo Credit: ECRI Institute

Tags: Medical Device Connectivity, Medical Device Integration, Patient Safety, Alarms and Alerts, Alarm Fatigue